February 8, 2021 by Amy Li (PBSN GM)
Have you ever felt like you’re doing business, but not really? Have you felt as if you are not as well equipped for business applications compared to your peers? Imposter syndrome in the business community is inevitable. It may be especially prevalent in those of us that are not currently studying something in the business/tech field.
Imposter Syndrome: describes feelings of severe inadequacy and self-doubt that can leave people fearing that they will be exposed as a “fraud”, usually in their work lives. It can affect anyone, regardless of their success.
For the majority of people, the words “Western business” automatically equates to the renowned Ivey Business School in the third and fourth year of university. That pathway also involves 2 years of studying “whatever you are interested in” as long as certain broad requirements are met. Due to Covid-19, one aspect that I have found to be especially difficult this year was staying connected to the business community as a first-year outside of a traditional business major.
Currently, I have felt extremely disconnected from clubs, opportunities, and the heart of the student body. It all just feels like a community that I am spectating, rather than engaging with. When attending these workshops and seminars, I feel like an imposter intruding on a meeting that I have no right to be at. This sense of belonging is a missing component that I, as well as many other business students, yearn for. How can I be just as qualified when I haven’t taken a single accounting course, barely know how to use excel, and don’t even know how to network? I could, however, tell you the way rotational motion is connected to tension and force with ease. So, do I quit business before even starting?
To get a better understanding of upper-year student perspectives, I spoke to a few HBA students about their experience on having an unconventional pathway into business.
Rachel Rothstein, an HBA 2 student that originally started out in neuroscience, shared her experiences navigating the world of interviews, networking, and internships for the first time in second year. She also expressed the same feelings of uneasiness, feeling unprepared for technicals or the field in general. However, she offered me some advice.
1.) Diversity in thought is extremely valuable.
She explained that each field brings a unique skillset. For example, pursuing stem might give you the analytic skills and problem-solving abilities that you might not have had if you were experiencing a traditional business major. The important part is recognizing and capitalizing on these abilities.
2.) Be open to reaching out to older students.
It feels incredibly intimidating, and even though it is very cliche advice, hearing it time and time again reinforces how important it is. Reaching out to the 3rd and 4th years on LinkedIn or Facebook doesn’t do you any harm; in fact, they can be especially helpful in guiding professional etiquette for Ivey/recruiting. Although school can get busier during the school year, there will always be someone willing to speak to you.
3.) Block out the noise.
Although this pretty much sounds impossible to do, the only way to stay on the right path is to focus on your own foundation of knowledge. It is always important to step out of your own comfort zone. That being said, it doesn’t make much sense to compare yourself to others’ experiences. Why not compare your own experiences to your past?
In addition to Rachel, I spoke with Bhapushon Thayalan, an HBA 2 student that started out in astrophysics. Although he had felt similar experiences to Rachel, he also offered some valuable insights.
He noted that the competitive nature of the business community can sometimes make one feel as if their worth is defined by the projects, experiences, or opportunities that they’ve been a part of. It can be quite difficult to open up about the rejections, self-doubting or academic concerns that each individual has had to go through.
Bhapushon was able to fight this sense of imposter syndrome by focusing on the soft skills that he had gained from outside the business field. For example, he said that he wasn’t as nervous about underperforming at the job, despite feeling “under qualified”. He knew that the workplace would teach him the skills AND because he knew that he had honed the abilities TO learn new techniques. By having a more unique background, he had already been exposed to difficult concepts and ways to apply them, which showed his adaptability, strong analytical skills, and perseverance.
On the topic of soft skills, Jayshree Bhargava, another HBA 2 student that started out in Medical Sciences, gave me the reassurance that being “behind” in business is completely okay! She noted that she only really started getting into business not too long ago, spending time in her earlier years finding her passions, hobbies, and interests OUTSIDE of business. She explained that having individual hobbies and passions are just as important as having “business” experience and skills. Jayshree emphasized that it was never too late to catch up and that exploring different pathways is never a bad idea. To her, the time she spent in science was not a waste of time, rather, it was crucial for her self-development
I also spoke to a couple of second years: Ali Malik, a history student and Nazm Grewal, an applied mathematics student. Ali emphasized that what helped him have confidence in his abilities was being self aware of his strengths and weaknesses as a history student, and how he could use this to his advantage. Ali highlighted that first year is a time for experimenting and trying out new things that you may not be 100% comfortable with.
Nazm shared her experiences about realizing the importance of creating and working towards your personal goals and interests, rather than what others are interested in. As someone who had an interest in the Venture Capitalism space, she often felt like an imposter; as if she had an obligation to take an interest in finance and consulting instead. She emphasized that it’s more important to find what you are genuinely interested in, rather than treating extracurriculars as a checklist of initiatives that you have to be a part of in order to get into Ivey in the third year.
All of these students are real people with real stories. Talking to them has helped me realize that there is no one dimensional way of measuring one’s success on the path of a business student. I learned that my business journey is driven by personal experiences that help me grow and develop as an individual. Diversifying your skills and experiences is what makes a person unique! As cliche, as it is, fighting imposter syndrome, is a day-to-day task.
Although this has been an incredibly overwhelming year with feelings of disconnect and uncertainty, just know that there is always a community for you here at Western. Even as just a general member of PBSN, I have been exposed to so many workshops and opportunities and am looking forward to several more. Even though I feel as though I am less knowledgeable, I know that I belong to the business community, just as much as anyone else.